Killer of Russian ambassador in Turkey scouted building, attended concert there days before the murder

The killer among us: The 22-year-old assassin, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, attended a concert by Latin jazz flautist Mihriban Aviral to familiarize himself with the kill zone before the murder.

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

The Turkish police officer who assassinated Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov at an art gallery in Ankara on December 19, 2016 scouted the premises days before the murder and attended a concert in the same gallery by Latin jazz flautist Mihriban Aviral.

According to confidential investigation files obtained by Nordic Monitor, the 22-year-old assassin, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, went to the Çağdaş Sanatlar Merkezi art gallery in Ankara on December 15, 2016, four days before he killed the Russian envoy. After learning that the Russian Embassy would hold an art exhibit in the gallery, Altıntaş started to plan the murder by familiarizing himself with the layout of the building, the location of exhibition halls and entry and exit points.

 

Statement by Lions Club President Tülay Niron, who received calls from the assassin of the Russian ambassador:

Tulay_Niron_statement

 

Upcoming events were published in the December issue of the Culture and Art Guide, distributed by the Çankaya Municipality, which manages the gallery, indicating that Aviral would perform a concert in Çankaya sponsored by the Ümitköy Lions Club. Altıntaş called club president Tülay Niron, whose number was listed in the brochure, twice on the day of the flautist’s performance to inquire about tickets.

 

Poster for concert at the art gallery attended by Altıntaş four days before he murdered the Russian ambassador.

 

He took a cab to the gallery, arrived at 20:00 hours, paid cash for a ticket and watched Aviral perform in the Yaşar Kemal hall, located on the ground floor of the gallery building. CCTV footage shows him moving around the lobby, loitering next to the bathroom where he pretended to go and for a while holding his cell phone up as if he were on a call. He could not get upstairs because the stairs were blocked by red tape to prevent concert-goers from wandering around the building after hours. The art exhibit where the Russian envoy would appear was to be held in the Fikret Mualla exhibition hall, located on the first floor. He left the building at 21:35.

The next day, at 18:16, Altıntaş returned to the art gallery and toured the first and second floors, pretending to be examining art pieces displayed in the exhibition halls. After scouting all the floors, he left the building at 19:18. This explains how the killer knew his way around when he came to kill the Russian ambassador on December 19. His movements after the murder in the halls and stairs suggests he had mapped out the layout in his mind.

 

Photos from CCTV footage that shows the killer scouting the art gallery building on December 15, 2016:

Altintas_first_scout

 

On December 19, Altıntaş arrived at the art gallery at 18:31 hours and entered the building without going through the X-ray checkpoint after flashing his police badge to the security personnel. Nobody bothered to check him. He went to the Füreyya Korel exhibition hall half an hour later. He moved around as if he were assigned to a protective detail, checking the perimeter, going up to the second floor, then coming back down to the first. At some point, he pretended to be speaking on the phone as his phone records did not show any incoming or outgoing calls at that moment captured by CCTV footage.

When Karlov arrived at the art gallery with his wife at 18:45, Altıntaş followed them into the Fikret Mualla exhibition hall. Multiple witness statements confirmed that guests and the gallery staff thought Altıntaş was part of security to protect Karlov, confirming that the killer’s charade worked and fooled everybody. Minutes before the shooting, Altıntaş positioned himself behind the podium where the ambassador would deliver a short speech. He moved from Karlov’s left to his right, scanning the room and projecting himself as a security guard in civilian clothes. At 19:05, he pulled his gun, took a step forward and shot the ambassador nine times at close range. He started shouting incoherent Arabic verses. Three minutes later, he checked the pulse of the ambassador, who had already collapsed on the ground and was lying on his back. He shot him one more time.

 

The second scouting visit to the art gallery on December 16, 2016, three days before the Russian ambassador was assassinated:

Altintas_second_scout

 

Altıntaş went up to the second floor, looked around and came back down to the first floor to proceed to the Füreyya Korel exhibition hall, where he exchanged shots with the police until 19:42 hours, when he was taken out.

An examination of CCTV footage inside the exhibition hall showed that in the seventh minute of the exchange, at 19:32 hours, he was shot in the left leg by the officers who were first on the scene. While he was hiding behind a wall at 19:34 hours, he was shot in his left side and dropped to the ground. He managed to fire off several shots while he was wounded and lying on the ground, prompting return fire from the officers.

At 19:37, two special operations officers started to approach Altıntaş, who was already in poor condition and was unsuccessfully trying to get up. According to the video footage, a special ops officer shot the gunman upon his approach, putting Altıntaş on the ground while he was trying to get to his knees. He lay flat on his back, dropping his gun to his right side. At 19:40 hours, another police officer moved next to Altıntaş and kicked the gun away. At this point, Altıntaş was still alive and was moving his arms and legs. Although he was wounded, lying on the ground and posed no threat, a special ops officer kept shooting at him, followed by another round of shots fired by another officer at 19:41 hours.

 

Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş

 

Though wounded, Altıntaş could very well have been taken alive but appears to have been executed upon the order of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who rushed to the scene to control the incident. It is very unusual for the minister to coordinate action at a crime scene. Altıntaş could have revealed all his accomplices had he been captured alive. The evidence in the case file shows why the government did not want to find out what led the gunman to kill the ambassador. The Erdoğan government did not pursue leads to radical imams, some working for the government’s religious authority, the Diyanet, and protected al-Qaeda suspects who had interacted with the gunman for years, helping him radicalize. The killer himself announced that he shot the Russian envoy because of what Russia had done in Syria, yet that angle, which provides a motive for the murder, was not investigated at all.

None of the imams who played significant roles in radicalizing Altıntaş nor the jihadist NGOs the killer interacted with and funded were named as suspects in the case or charged with a crime. Instead, Turkish authorities attempted to find a scapegoat in the Gülen movement, a group critical of the government, and framed innocent people who had nothing to do with the murder.

It was clear from the beginning that the Erdoğan government wanted to protect radical networks and figures that it relied on as a political support base and proxy force for combat in Syria and Libya. When the trial of suspects involved in the murder began, however, the government plot was dealt a huge blow when a key suspect accused by the prosecutor of instigating the hit exposed in court the torture he had been subjected to in police custody and testified that the statement extracted from him was fabricated by the police and that his family had been threatened.

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